Christopher Hansen and Taylor Armosino discuss the future of the 4-9 Raiders.
or other podcast clients: http://raidersblog.com/feed/podcast
Christopher Hansen and Taylor Armosino discuss the future of the 4-9 Raiders.
or other podcast clients: http://raidersblog.com/feed/podcast
Three-hundred-and-sixty-three days have passed since the Raiders opened the 2011 season against the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football, and at the time many believed the Raiders were finally back on track. Penalties were going to be a thing of the past, bullies were being built, and the only injury known to man was a “nic.” Just one year ago the Raiders were about to usher in the Hue Jackson era, and fans were hyped to see this newly created “bully” in action. Everything seemed to be falling into place for the Silver and Black and the team was poised to make a serious run at the playoffs for the first time since 2002, except the season began unfolding as if it were being scripted by the writers of Lost.
After managing to stumble to a 2-2 record to start the season, shock waves rippled through the franchise as news broke that legend and Raiders owner Al Davis had passed away. With plenty of mixed emotions, the Raiders had a game to play the next day against the Houston Texans. They went on to win that game in the final seconds, honoring the man who had led them for the nearly 50 years.
As the dust began to settle the Raiders still had a season to finish and the hits didn’t quit coming. In the very next game, starting quarterback Jason Campbell broke his collarbone leaving the Raiders with only Kyle Boller at quarterback. Without Davis to call the shots as he had done for so long, no one was quite sure what was going to happen. The answer came two days later, when Hue Jackson was given the authority to pull off a stunner of a trade that sent a first and second-round draft pick to the Bengals for retired quarterback Carson Palmer.
As everyone tried to digest what had just taken place, there were only a few days left to prepare before the Raiders faced the division rival Kansas City Chiefs. Trying to forget what they had to give up to get him, the Raiders now had a quarterback who they thought could lead the team to the playoffs. It was just a matter of getting Carson Palmer up to speed with the offense while leaning heavily on one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL, right?
While that plan seemed to make sense at the time, Kyle Boller was quickly proving to everyone why he has not been able to hold a job in the NFL and the Raiders were hit with even worse news: Darren McFadden suffered a Lisfranc injury against the Chiefs that would cause him to miss the rest of the season. Hue Jackson contended that McFadden was “close” to returning on a weekly basis, but he never did.
Carson Palmer was left trying to pick up the pieces of a season that started out with so much hope. Unable to stay true to his word, Jackson did not fix the penalty issue and his team set a record for the most penalties in a single season. Still, the Raiders managed to be in position to win a very weak AFC West, but failed to beat San Diego in their final game, and once again fell short of the playoffs for a ninth-straight season.
Fast forward to January 2012. Mark Davis took over for his dad as the team’s owner and he hired Reggie McKenzie to be the next general manager. The situation seems equal to that of Aaron Rodgers replacing Brett Favre. McKenzie is replacing a legend, but he is not trying to become the next Davis. He will have to make his own name and do things his own way. Change is a process and takes time and patience which is something Raiders fans are starting to run out of after nine-straight seasons without making playoffs.
Many moves made by McKenzie and some moves he will make in the near future will be met with skepticism. That is not uncommon according to Saul Alinsky, “Change means movement. Movement means friction. Only in the frictionless vacuum of a nonexistent abstract world can movement or change occur without that abrasive friction of conflict.”
McKenzie’s road to success will not be easy, but that will not temper any existing expectations. At this point in time it’s anyone’s guess how much or how little success he will have in Oakland. However, in order to more clearly understand what is being judged, its important to be aware of the obstacles and decisions McKenzie faced upon becoming the new general manager of the Raiders.
Like most new general managers, the first order of business for McKenzie was deciding who he wanted to have coach his team. That is not a choice you want to take likely and could ultimately decide his success early on. He was well aware of the rotating door Oakland has had with their head coaches and he needed to find a guy he trusted to help bring the Raiders back to excellence, even if immediate success was impossible. Unfortunately for Hue Jackson, he was not that man. Could the argument be made that Jackson didn’t get a fair shot? Sure, but the NFL is a business and business is not about fair.
After 18 days of searching and countless interviews, McKenzie found his guy in Dennis Allen. “When I talk about the guy I was looking for, I’m looking for a guy that could lead these men, that was passionate about the game, that was passionate about teaching, passionate about the Oakland Raiders.” McKenzie said when introducing Allen at his press conference. “Guys, not only did coach Dennis Allen do that for me, he exceeded those expectations.”
One of the reasons this decision was so important was because McKenzie believes in giving his head coach full power over hiring his staff. That is something past head coaches in Oakland did not have, they may have had input, but it was Al Davis who made the final decisions on hiring or firing. McKenzie also noted that he and Allen will always have open communication, but it was up to the head coach what schemes would be run. That is certainly a change of pace in Oakland.
Allen proceeded to hire Jason Tarver to run the defense, who comes with a very aggressive and multiple look defensive style which is very different from the base 4-3 man defense that had been a Raiders staple for as long as anyone can remember. Greg Knapp is back to run the offense under Allen, which means Jackson’s power blocking scheme and trickery are out and the West Coast Offense and zone-blocking scheme are in. Learning completely different schemes on both sides of the ball in one offseason is much harder than most people realize.
The hard part for McKenzie was just beginning . Now that he had a head coach, he next had to figure out a way to get the roster under control, which would be no easy task. Starring him in the face was $145 million dollars in salary for 2012 ($25 million over the salary cap) and $16 million more than the Carolina Panthers who had the next highest salary total. It was no secret that in the latter years of Al Davis’ life he was operating in a “win now” mode, which often times meant the only thing that mattered was getting who he felt was the best players he could at whatever cost was necessary. That meant a lot of traded draft picks and back-loaded contracts, many of which were well over market value.
McKenzie was left to sort it all out, trying to find a way to cut at least $25 million in salary for 2012 as well as give himself a little breathing room for free agency and signing draft picks. McKenzie had to do this while trying to maintain a competitive roster and preventing the same situation from happening next offseason. Easier said than done, especially when you are without your first, second and third-round draft picks due to roster moves made before you took over.
During that process, McKenzie was faced with difficult roster decisions on some of his core players. He wasted no time in weeding out the “out of whack” contracts and cut ties with Stanford Routt on February 9th, just over a month after he was hired. This sent a message to everyone inside and outside the organization, nothing would be handed to anyone anymore.
The year before Routt was released he was given a five-year, $54.5 million contract. No matter his opinion of Routt’s skill as a player, McKenzie knew he was not worth $10 million per year. Another major decision was how to proceed with Kamerion Wimbley, who was the Raiders best outside pass rusher. WImbley carried a contract of five years, $48 million. If Wimbley was on the roster by the start of the new league year (March 17th), he would have been owed $17.5 million in guaranteed money (including $11 million in 2012). If cut, the Raiders were only on the hook for $6.5 million, but would also lose their best edge rusher and would be in a tough spot to try to replace him.
After refusing to take a pay cut, Wimbley would eventually be released. This left the Raiders having to pay $6.5 million in dead money for 2012, but relieved them of Wimbley’s remaining contract. Kevin Boss and Cooper Carlisle were also later released, but McKenzie was able to re-work the contracts of Carson Palmer, Michael Huff, Richard Seymour and Aaron Curry to keep them on the roster. Carlisle later resigned with the Raiders at a much lower rate.
McKenzie mentioned shortly after he was hired that each position would be evaluated from front office personnel to players on the field. He said that at the right time, the appropriate changes would be made. Holding true to his word, on February 16th it was announced that long-time Senior Executive John Herrera would no longer work for the new Raiders front office. Known in many circles as Al Davis’ “yes man”, John Herrera—mostly known for denying every media report regardless of truth—represented the exact image that McKenzie wanted to change. Zak Gilbert was later hired as director of Media Relations and Mike Taylor was hired as Director of Pubic Affairs going forward. As many have noted, the Raiders have since become much more open and media friendly.
McKenzie’s next major moves came in the form of re-vamping the football operations personnel. Shaun Herock (son on Ken Herock) who worked with McKenzie in Green Bay was hired as the director of college scouting and Reggie’s twin brother Raleigh was also hired to help in the scouting department. McKenzie also brought Joey Clinkscales from the New York Jets to work as director of personnel. Clinkscales served as the V.P. of college scouting with the Jets and was a college teammate and childhood friend of McKenzie.
Tonight, the Raiders will open the 2013 season against the San Diego Chargers with a new general manager, new front office personnel, new media relations, new scouting department, new coaching staff, new offensive and defensive schemes and 23 new players on the 53-man roster. The Raiders are truly starting fresh is 2012. It’s almost mind-blowing how much change has taken place in such a short amount of time.
Only time will tell how successful year one will be for the new-era Raiders. Most fans seem to agree that this team is just as good, if not better than a year ago which is a pretty incredible feat considering the circumstances.
Training Camp. The time year when players have the chance to showcase their off-season hard work, coaches get the chance to put their visions into motion, and speculation begins flying around at an unprecedented rate. Some teams choose to stay the course from the previous season hoping to build on what they have accomplished while other teams turn to change and a fresh start to be their saving grace. Regardless of the route each team chooses to take, the target destination of Super Bowl XLVII remains the same.
The Raiders are no doubt introducing change across the board this season as they usher in the “New Era” of Raiders football under General Manager Reggie McKenzie. As part of this new era, much has been made of the obvious changes in philosophy on the field as the Raiders look to get away from their strict man to man base 4-3 defense of the past and look to be spontaneous and more “multiple” on defense in 2012. The change doesn’t stop there though as the Raiders also look to switch things up on the offensive side of the ball bringing back former offensive coordinator Greg Knapp and his strong belief in the Zone Blocking scheme and West Coast Offense.
While many are excited to see the end result of all the changes, few people actually understand the difficulty in changing so much in such a short amount of time. To the fans, what seems like an eternity of waiting for the next NFL season to arrive, is all but a blur to the coaches and players trying to figure out how they will ever cover everything in the little time they have together before the season starts. 10 days of organized team activities, 26 training camp practices, and 4 preseason games. Under the new CBA, that is all the time an NFL team has to implement their strategy and prepare for the upcoming NFL season.
In what seems like an impossible task to change almost every part of a teams philosophy in one off-season, the Raiders actually have a big asset working in their favor. That asset happens to come in the form of player versatility. The Raiders are unmatched when it comes to the ability of their players to play multiple roles on the field. It’s a weapon that has arguably been under utilized by previous coaching staffs, and its a weapon that coach Dennis Allen and the rest of his staff must take full advantage of if they plan to maximize their level of success while implementing their new schemes.
While the Raiders have had a good amount of versatility on their defense in recent years, their scheme has restricted how far it could take them. This year the restraints are gone and the versatility of these players will be very important to the multiple looks the Raiders want to use this season.
Tyvon Branch will play a key role in how successful the Raiders defense will be in 2012, and the amount of things this guy can do on the football field are almost endless. Branch came out of the University of Connecticut where he focused mostly on playing corner back and returning kicks. After joining the Raiders he began his transition from corner back to strong safety, a transition not many guys can claim to have effectively made. Tyvon was not only effective in his new role, but he is now a top five player in the league at that position. With the Raiders short on corner back depth, Branch was also asked to fill in there at times last season. Being able to make that switch mid game is impressive on many levels but his ability doesn’t stop there. Branch also has the range and instincts to play the free safety position, meaning he can be effective at any one of the 4 main defensive back positions. Having a player with that ability adds a tremendous amount flexibility to a defensive game plan, and the fact that he has 4.3 speed means he is never far from the ball regardless of where he begins the play.
Philip Wheeler played his college ball at Georgia Tech where he thrived as an inside linebacker in an aggressive blitzing defense. As a matter of fact, Wheeler was considered by many as one of the nation’s best-blitzing linebackers. That is a skill Dennis Allen and Jason Tarver plan to take full advantage of as the transition to a more aggressive defense has been no secret to this point. Wheeler also possesses rare coverage abilities in the open field, not something a lot of linebackers can say. Having a linebacker who can both attack and cover is a tremendous asset.
Rolando McClain brings his versatility to the table in a different form. McClain was the center piece in Nick Saban’s famous 3-4 defense at Alabama. He excelled there and it’s a role that McClain began to really become comfortable in. However, when he was picked by the Raiders in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft, they felt he had what it took to make a the transition to a 4-3 middle linebacker. While he has not had instant success there, he has improved as a 2-gap linebacker and seems to be looking a lot better in training camp this year. That is very important as the Raiders want to use both 3-4 and 4-3 fronts this season. They will need their leader in the middle to be able to call the plays in the huddle and play as both a one and two gap linebacker depending on the formation.
Lamarr Houston played defensive tackle at the University of Texas, but was brought to Oakland to fill a hole at defensive end. Houston is a physical specimen who has proven he can play either position in the NFL with his rare combination of quickness and power. Maybe one of the most intriguing things about him though is where he fits into the 3-4 packages. He certainly has the power to hold his own as a 3-4 end, and does a great job at getting leverage on offensive lineman to be able to drive them back. It has also been noticed that Houston is looking like he’s in good shape this season and might trimmed down some weight to be closer to 280-290 instead of 300-310. Could we see him play some elephant backer (a combination 4-3 DE and 3-4 OLB) this season?
Richard Seymour and Desmond Bryant have also both played inside and outside on the defensive line in the 4-3, and Seymour has experience as a 3-4 defensive end from his time in New England where he won two super bowls. Those two being able to move around on the defensive line will help out tremendously as well.
Of course there are others players on the defense capable of doing multiple things, but i believe the six guys listed above bring a lot of value to what Dennis Allen and Jason Tarver are trying to accomplish on defense. Switching gears to the other side of the ball, the offense is not short on dynamic players either and most seem very excited about the system Greg Knapp is using this season.
Darren McFadden is a one of a kind running back. He has the speed and agility to score every time he touches the ball, but unlike most backs with those attributes, he can also use his power to effectively run between the tackles as well. He is not limited to his running ability though. McFadden has shown many times that he can line up in the slot, run routes, and catch like a wide receiver too. There is not another running back in the NFL that can do all of those things at a high level, and he shares a back field with none other than Marcel Reece. A converted wide receiver from the University of Washington, Reece has played wide receiver, tight end, fullback, and has even carried the ball a few times. He is an X-Factor for the offense, and is incredibly hard to game plan for because he can do so many things from the fullback position. How many times does a defense have to game plan for the fullback? McFadden and Reece are without a doubt the most dynamic backfield duo in the NFL and it’s not even close.
The offensive line is not normally thought about as being versatile, but in the Raiders case they are. Jared Veldheer, a 6’8″ left tackle also spent time playing center his rookie season. Stefan Wisneiwski played center at Penn State, but spent almost his entire rookie season at left guard and played very well there for the Raiders last season. He has now moved back to center. Cooper Carlisle has spent the majority of his career at right guard, but when the team brought Mike Brisel aboard via free agency Carlisle was moved to left guard where he will play this season. Khalif Barnes has started at left tackle and right tackle at certain points in his NFL career. He was also used a lot as an extra lineman in jumbo packages that Hue Jackson liked to use, one of which had Barnes running a route into the end zone where he caught a touchdown pass. Aside from all of that though, they are also making the switch from the power blocking scheme to the zone blocking scheme while returning all starters from last season with the exception of one. In most cases, there are major personnel changes a long the offensive line when you make that kind of switch. At face value it might not seem like a tall task, but any lineman who has played in both will tell you it’s a very tough thing to grasp.
Darrius Heyward-Bey is really starting to develop into a solid wide receiver, who possesses great speed and a big frame capable of breaking tackles. He is getting much better as route running which creates separation from the defensive back and timing with the quarterback. He also excels at running blocking as well though which does not get near enough credit. It is the job of the offensive line to get the running back to the second level, but it is often times a block by a wide receiver that springs the running back for a long gain or a touchdown. DHB’s hard work has made him into a dynamic player in the Raiders offense, and he should only continue to get better.
If the Raiders are able to successfully change so many parts in one season, the one thing that will allow them to do it is the flexibility that have with their roster. As you can see there is not another team in the league that matches the Raiders versatility in all facets of the game, and it will be up to the coaches to use that to their advantage to gain a competitive edge.
When Reggie McKenzie was hired he spoke of the fact that he planned to make changes within the Raiders front office. He brought up his vision of having everyone within the organization from front office employees to players on the field having one goal in mind and that is winning a championship. He went on to say that while not all changes would be immediate he would evaluate every position and make changes where and when he saw fit. We now know that at the very least you know Reggie is a man of his word.
Shortly after Reggie was hired the first front office change came in the form of John Herrera “taking a break” from his job. What that means is only really known by people inside the Raiders organization, but don’t be surprised if he was encouraged to take that break. Lets just say it didn’t take most people long to get over that move and Reggie wasted no time in filling the void. On March 24th it was announced that Zak Gilbert was hired as director of media relations and Mike Taylor was promoted to director of public affairs. Zak worked under McKenzie in Green Bay as the chief assistant of public relations from 2001-2007. Reggie was later asked specifically about the scouting department and he said he would wait until after the draft to address that situation so that it would not disrupt this years scouting. It was a very smart move on the part of McKenzie because timing is everything when it comes to important roles such as scouting.
Again holding true to his word and just days after the draft Reggie has fired current college scouting director Jon Kingdon. There are also reports that longtime scout Bruce Kebric will not be retained either. Kingdon and Kebric have both been working in the scouting department for the Raiders for 30+ years. Anytime long tenured employees are let go it is met with a certain amount of skepticism and rightfully so, but it seems as though Reggie has been right on point with front office hires and this is no different.
It was announced today that Shaun Herock was hired to take over as director of college scouting. Shaun is the son of former player and personnel executive of the Raiders Ken Herock. Ken Herock along with Ron Wolf and John Madden was said to be an adviser for Mark Davis before hiring Reggie McKenzie as the new general manager of the Oakland Raiders. Shaun has spent the last 19 years with the Green Bay Packers and was a former colleague of McKenzie. He was most recently serving as the assistant director of college scouting with Green Bay. It was also announced that Raleigh McKenzie (twin brother of Reggie) will also join the teams scouting department. Raleigh played in the NFL for 15 years, winning two Super Bowls with the Washington Redskins and was named to the All-NFL team in 1991.
There were rumors swirling a few days ago that Joey Clinkscale was a candidate for the job given to Shaun Herock. Clinkscale, a childhood friend and college teammate of Reggie McKenzie, is someone to keep an eye on in the near future. He could still emerge as a candidate for a pro personnel job with the Raiders if he does end up leaving his current position as director of college scouting with the Jets.
While it may seem at times that Reggie McKenzie is making some knee jerk moves in the front office, it is very conceivable that he has had a very distinct and prepared plan from the beginning and is strategically making changes at the right time. It’s not at all uncommon for a general manager to surround himself with people he is familiar with, but keep in mind that each front office hire to this point has had a distinct football background and experience. Again I stress that only time will tell the story on how successful this new regime will be, but it sure seems like things are “making sense” in Oakland these days and the organization from top to bottom seems to be filling out well.
With new management in Oakland comes many changes including personnel, schemes, philosophies and even media relations. By nature change tends to make people uneasy. It’s hard to get that comfortable feeling many fans are looking for this time of year when there is so much change happening all at once. Many will agree that change is not always bad, but its the unknown of it all at the present time that make it tough to grasp. While I would love to answer the question of whether the changes are good or bad, the fact remains that only time will tell the whole story of how they will impact the franchise.
As I mentioned earlier personnel changes are part of the whole process and many player decisions are being made. On the surface it seems that the Raiders are just unloading bad contracts which leads many to believe the Raiders are just rebuilding for the future. Its understandable where that thinking is applied, but lets take a deeper look into the player changes to this point.
In week 6 of last season, Jason Campbell broke his collarbone. Very soon after the Raiders traded for Carson Palmer and it was at that point that everyone knew who the future starter was of the Oakland Raiders. The loss of Jason Campbell to free agency comes as no surprise. Out of no disrespect to Jason, the Raiders did not pursue him as a backup. They gave him the opportunity to go seek another starting job elsewhere. The market did not develop for Jason and he signed a contract with the Bears to backup Jay Cutler. As fans, the first reaction is “why not come back to Oakland as a backup”? No one will really know how both sides felt about the situation, but one thing is clear. Jason Campbell has a lot of close friends on the Raiders roster, many of which are wide receivers. If the Raiders are moving forward with Carson Palmer as the leader of the offense, then everyone has to rally behind him and believe that he is the man for the job without question. Jason is a good guy, but knowing he might still be the starting quarterback of the Raiders had he not broken his collarbone would always leave the sense of “what if” with the team. It was best for both sides to move on and start fresh.
Last seasons depth chart at quarterback consisted of Jason Campbell, Kyle Boller and Trent Edwards to start the year. Terrell Pryor was serving his suspension as handed down by the league, and later replaced Edwards as the third string quarterback. Once Jason Campbell went down two things became very clear.
1) Kyle Boller was not very good, which was assumed by his past failures.
2) The Raiders coaching staff had no faith in Boller’s ability to lead the team and remain competitive.
It was no secret that Boller would not return as the backup quarterback the next season which brings us to the present. Last year’s starter Jason Campbell has been replaced by Carson Palmer. For the time being Terrell Pryor takes over as the backup, but will have competition in camp when the Raiders add another quarterback.
From last season to this season, I don’t see any drop off in talent at the quarterback position.
One of the big story lines this off-season was the fact that Michael Bush was a free agent. He was a fan favorite of many because of his size and power, and he and McFadden gave the Raiders backfield that “Thunder and Lightning” combo. As much as Reggie McKenzie would have loved to have Michael Bush back as the Raiders backup running back, he knew it wasn’t going to happen at a cost he wanted to pay. Bush received 3.5 million per year over 4 years to back up Matt Forte in Chicago. That is a perfect example of “overpaying” for a position in this league. Something the Raiders are not looking to do anymore.
Michael Bush got his share of carries last season due to the injury of Darren McFadden. He finally got his chance to showcase his value to the whole league, while working as the primary running back in Oakland’s offense most of the season. He carried the ball 256 times for 977 yards with a 3.8 yards per carry average. There were only 8 running backs in the league last year with a lesser yards per carry average who had at least 100 carries. It’s hard to argue with numbers and as much as Bush was loved by the Raider Nation, Reggie did the right thing in letting him walk.
The Raiders later traded for Mike Goodson of the Carolina Panthers. Goodson was buried on the depth chart in Carolina behind DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. He is a much different back than Bush so it’s not really an apples to apples comparison between the two. Mike Goodson missed most of last season with a hamstring injury, so looking back at 2010 Mike Goodson carried the ball 103 times for 452 yards with an average yards per carry of 4.4.
With the Raiders once again moving back to the zone blocking scheme under new offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, Goodson should be a good fit in Oakland. He is a one cut and go type runner which is exactly what you need to be in the ZBS system. He has the agility and speed to make big plays from the running back position as well, but will have to work on his ball security.
Not to be forgotten is Taiwan Jones who is working very hard to prepare for his Sophomore season. With one year in the pro’s under his belt now he should be ready to make his contributions to the offense as well.
Overall, while the Raiders will lose some power at the running back position, they also gain some explosiveness, and the overall production from the position should not decrease at all.
Kevin Boss was brought in last season to fill the void left by Zach Miller. Boss had high expectations to live up to after Miller had so much success in Oakland, and fell very short of meeting those expectations. Boss was mainly used as a blocking tight end and only caught 27 balls and 2 touchdowns on offense all season. He added a touchdown catch on a fake field goal as well. Giving that his contract was for 4 million per year over 4 years, its obvious his production did not line up with the money he was making. In their lies the reason in which he was cut. Four million dollars per year is way too much to being paying for that kind of production.
The Raiders will not have trouble replacing that production at tight end with Brandon Myers proving he is very capable of blocking and David Ausberry quickly emerging as a threat in the passing game from the tight end position. Reggie McKenzie also made it known that if he finds a tight end he likes, he won’t hesitate to bring him in as competition as well.
I don’t see the Raiders losing any production from the tight end position going forward, and with some younger guys developing their game it could soon become another dynamic position for the Raiders offense.
Stanford Routt’s release was the first big bang of the Reggie McKenzie era. Routt was a solid man to man corner back even though he led the league in penalties and surrendered 8 touchdowns to opposing wide receivers last season. However, it didn’t take anyone (including Reggie McKenzie and Dennis Allen) long to figure out he was being overpaid. Not only was he being overpaid for the current season, but he still had 4 years left on his contract averaging about 10 million per year. That alone had a lot to do with his release, but was not the only factor.
Routt built his entire game around playing bump and run man coverage. As part of the changes taking place in Oakland, the Raiders will be moving away from the philosophy of running strictly man to man coverage on defense. That change even further devalued Stanford Routt’s services as he had next to no experience in zone coverage. Zone coverage is very different from man to man and not every corner back in the NFL is capable of playing both. Look no further than DeAngelo Hall as an example of that.
The Raiders have brought in four new corner backs this off-season so far. Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer both bring a lot of starting experience and history of solid play at the corner back position. While neither player is viewed as a superstar, both are very capable of holding their own in pass defense and have played in similar schemes to what the Raiders will look to do this year. They have combined for 19 interceptions in their career to this point.
Brandon Underwood and Pat Lee were also brought in as players who will get a chance to show what they have in training camp. Both have been in the league for a few years and have shown flashes of talent at times. Reggie knows what he is getting with these two as they were part of the Packers organization as well and wants to see if they can earn a spot on the roster this year.
Overall the loss of Stanford Routt will be extremely softened by the switch in defensive philosophy. Also the additions of Bartell and Spencer might prove to be two very undervalued pickups by the Raiders.
Probably the hottest topic in the Raiders off-season to this point was the release of Kamerion Wimbley. Even though he played out of position for most of his time in Oakland, Wimbley brought an edge pass rush to the Raiders defense that will be tough to replace.
The Raiders recently added free agent Phillip Wheeler and he will likely slide in as the starting strong side linebacker. Wheeler is a very interesting value pickup for the Raiders. He totaled 84 tackles last season for the Colts and was quietly very stout against the run for them, an area in which Oakland has struggled in recent years. Wheeler also brings better coverage skills which was very much a pain point in Wimbley’s game at outside linebacker.
While the Raiders won’t be looking for Phillip Wheeler replace Wimbley’s pass rushing abilities, it is worth noting that while playing linebacker at Georgia Tech he totaled 18.5 sacks in 3 years from the linebacker position. One scouting report had this to say of Phillip Wheeler about his time in college “considered by many as one of the nation’s best-blitzing linebackers”.
The Raiders will need to find new ways to pressure the quarterback this year, but that should not be a problem under new head coach Dennis Allen as he thrives in that department. What the Raiders lose in pass rushing ability from Wimbley, they gain in run support and pass defense with Wheeler. With new defensive coordinator Jason Tarver and Dennis Allen dialing up blitzes on game day, getting after the quarterback should not be a problem for this defense going forward.
So to answer the question of…”Are the Raiders rebuilding or reloading?” I’ll let you be the judge.
The Oakland Raiders came into the offseason with salary cap issues and needing to improve a team that finished a disappointing 8-8 last season. New general manager Reggie McKenzie was hired to reshape the Raiders’ front office and establish a new philosophy to guide the team into the future.
McKenzie has a plan and as time passes his philosophies will slowly be revealed. So far, McKenzie has made a flurry of moves designed to help the Raiders reach short-term and long-term goals such as getting under the salary cap and shedding back-loaded contracts that would have handicapped his plans in 2013 and beyond.
A lot of activity doesn’t always indicate a lot of change. As it stands, the Raiders will return 16 of 22 starters.
What does the Raiders activity or lack of activity mean for the team in 2012?
1. Reggie McKenzie wants to win and knows how to build a team to do it.
Overreacting, overvaluing and overpaying is not a recipe for success in the NFL. The most successful teams find value. Making a big splash is free agency is usually a recipe for failure.
The top free agents are almost always overvalued and no team loses a player they truly want to keep.
Without the cap flexibility, the Raiders were never going to be big players in free agency, but instead of signing one top free agent and overpaying for his services, McKenzie has already brought in two value free agents at positions of significant need.
McKenzie knows building a winner requires patience. Even with limited cap space the Raiders should be able to sign a handful of free agents that can help the team for a reasonable price.
The moves being made aren’t just moves to help the team in the future, but moves that can have a positive impact on the win total in 2012.
2. The Raiders may struggle to find a natural pass rush.
With the release of Kamerion Wimbley, the Raiders lose their best edge rusher. Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly will continue to apply pressure up the middle, but the Raiders lack a natural edge rusher.
A healthy Matt Shaughnessy will help the pass rush, but the Raiders will still have to rely on the blitz much more than they ever have before.
The struggle with the blitz is that elite quarterbacks can beat it consistently and the Raiders’ division could be adding another in the form of Peyton Manning to go along with Philip Rivers.
McKenzie still has time to find a natural edge rusher, but as it stands the Raiders will have to manufacture pressure on the quarterback.
Allen’s entire defense hinges on the team’s ability to get a pass rush, so the blitzing safeties and linebackers will have to execute in their new roles.
3. Darren McFadden’s health is vitally important.
Dennis Allen hinted that the Raiders would look into if the practice fields were contributing to the high-rate of foot injuries the team had sustained over the last few years. If the Raiders’ practice field has contributed to foot and leg injuries, McFadden has been hurt by it the most.
Michael Bush is testing the free agent market and is likely to find a team that will make him a full-time starter. That leaves Taiwan Jones and Marcel Reece to backup McFadden.
Jones and Reece are both very capable, but neither are proven running the ball or carrying the load when an injured starter goes down.
With Carson Palmer in the fold, the team can survive without McFadden, but if the team has playoff aspirations McFadden must stay healthy.
4. The offensive line is in flux again.
The Raiders offensive line has been in a constant state of change over the past decade. Tom Cable and the zone-blocking scheme initially brought some success, but that quickly faded and the Raiders began the transition back to the man blocking scheme over the past two seasons.
Greg Knapp’s return to Oakland means the zone-blocking scheme is coming back and the Raiders return only two of the five starters on the offensive line from a season ago.
To solidify the offensive line, the Raiders signed right guard Mike Brisiel from the Houston Texans. Brisiel is a solid zone-blocking guard that will provide a nice upgrade over Cooper Carlisle. Brisiel may also help implement the scheme as he is familiar with Knapp and offensive line coach Frank Pollack.
The question remains what the Raiders will do at right tackle, left guard and center. Stefen Wisniewski will either stay at guard or move to center and the Raiders will need to address whichever position Wisniewski doesn’t play.
The theory behind the zone-blocking scheme is that high-priced lineman are not required if the team knows what traits to look for in an offensive lineman. The Raiders will put the theory to the test in 2012.
Jared Veldheer and Stefen Wisniewski will also have to learn the zone-blocking system. Both should be able to pick up the scheme and both have traits that should translate, but it’s still something new and developing a new skill takes time away from their development of existing skills.
The Raiders should be able to run the ball, but pass protection could be an issue when the line might have three new starters.
Perhaps Joseph Barksdale is ready to compete for a starting job and maybe the zone-scheme can salvage Bruce Campbell’s career.
In the end, the offensive line could be a strength or a weakness of this team. We’ll just have to wait and see.
5. The Raiders will be much better in coverage.
The Raiders released 2011 starters Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson, but brought back Michael Huff and Tyvon Branch. After a terrible year in coverage, a few changes were merited and McKenzie has started the process of solidifying the secondary.
McKenzie signed Ron Bartell to play cornerback on a modest one-year deal. It’s the kind of bargain contract that can pay huge dividends for the Raiders if Bartell is fully recovered from a neck injury he sustained early last season.
Bartell is 30 and had seven solid seasons in St. Louis before being released. He still has all the physical tools to be successful and he can obviously play, but even if there was some question if Bartell had lost a step, McKenzie is known for his ability to tell which players can play and which players can’t.
The Raiders have to figure out what to do on the other cornerback position. One option is free agent cornerback Tracy Porter who will have a visit with the team later this week according to Vittorio Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Porter is a young cornerback with the skills that will fit what Dennis Allen likes to do on defense. Porter’s best seasons came when Allen was his position coach in New Orleans.
Allen’s defense will help take the pressure off the secondary, but the changes have already been positive and McKenzie should continue to add solid depth.